I am of course referring to those bloody (or is that blood thirsty?) monkeys in the sacred monkey forest in Ubud, not my feelings towards Scott!. I feel like a bit of a plum in the first place for suggesting that it would be safe to feed the monkeys here. After all, I have done exactly this in several places during my travels and the monkeys have always been courteous, shown a few manners. These ones, well well well, wham bang thank you maam, now give me the rest of the bananas or i will sink these fangs into your foreign skin and attempt to transmit my rabies/hepatitis/encephalitis/ goodness knows what else. I am not exaggerating here, rabies is all over Bali and monkeys can pass it on to us.
Stumbling on one of the many many evening ceremonies
It would only take a wild monkey, of which there are HUNDREDS here, to have a fight with one of the many rabid stray dogs chilling out on the streets of bali and hey presto...
It was actually Scott who was attacked, not me. He had come all the way from England to spend a couple of weeks holiday in Bali. After the unforgettable Mt Bromo experience, I had spent a few days milling around the Balinese hill town of Ubud, finding us a decent place to stay and filling the fridge with coke zero and Bintang beer! I very quickly felt good about this place and thought it would be perfect for the start of the holiday with Scott. The centre of Ubud is made up of two main streets, pretty touristy, but with some really nice and relaxed restaurants, bars, temples and spas.
random side street
Oh yes the spas, massage parlours and the like, fill every other place along monkey forest road, and so very cheap, about £3 for an hours massage, heaven... Off the main roads in the little side streets is where the surprise and the magic begins. You can literally walk around for days stumbling upon beautiful rice fields, art galleries, temples, ceremonies, little cafes, little spas. The whole place was fuel for the soul. Ubud made us both feel very happy. In many of the little side streets were some fantastic little places to stay. I found us a gorgeous Balinese style bungalow next to a swimming pool and surrounded by tropical plants, Balinese statues and hindu shrines. Huge butterflies out having fun you know what I mean (sorry bursting into song there!) and the smell of ceremonial incense in the air.
Bali has a unique culture within SE Asia, largely influenced by the devotion of the majority of people to the Balinese Hindu religion. So very distinct from the surrounding lands in Indonesia where the muslim religion predominates. It feels almost like the cultural equivalent of Galapagos island. Balinese Hinduism has roots in Indian Hinduism and in Buddhism but also embraces the animistic traditions of the native people, the power of the gods is found in every element of nature. The Balinese worship the spirits of their ancestors and strongly embrace philosophy, mythology and the arts. Rather complex. Ubud is considered to be at the cultural heart of Bali and is a fascinating place to observe the day to day devotion of the people, the traditional dress and the many many temple ceremonies and festivities.
The daily prayer rituals start early morning when offerings are taken to the family temple, found in every Balinese home and business. By placing these offerings in the corner of the temple nearest the holy mountain Agung, it is believed that the gods will receive them and the demons, part of the important balance between good and evil, will receive theirs on the ground. Offerings to the gods are laid out many times throughout the day during normal daily life. These offerings, usually in the form of a small square woven leaf tray containing flowers, candy, biscuits, rice and incense, can be seen all over Ubud, on the pavement, outside shops, on the dashboard of cars, and of course in the many beautiful temples.
I took a taxi to the airport to meet Scott off his flight and it was both weird and fantastic to see him after five months away.
I must admit, after so long travelling solo it took me a few days to get used to being part of a ‘plus one’ but the dynamics soon came back. Scott loved it here too, the right balance of quiet yet plenty to do, comfortable place to stay and so much culture and beauty. The second day of Scott’s visit was the infamous visit to the sacred monkey forest, just a five minute walk from our bungalow. This forest is home to an important temple and around 400 ‘cute’ long tail macaque monkeys. In Balinese Hinduism, monkeys can be the embodiment of both positive and negative forces. Monkeys that occupy sacred temple sites are believed to be capable of guarding against evil spirits, hence are cherished. Stupidly, I suggested we buy some bananas to feed the monkeys from a vendor selling them at the entrance.
Photo opportunity just before..
Almost immediately as we entered the forest, a large male monkey jumped onto Scott and climbed onto his shoulder. I thought this was great! Camera comes out, great photo opportunity, the look on Scotts face very funny. Then ‘damn thing has bitten me’ the little vicious bastard had sunk his teeth into Scotts finger trying to get more bananas. Then in the commotion another monkey jumped on him and bit him too! Maybe protecting the citizens of Bali from evil spirits? Hehe more like greedy little vicious bastards that have just become too tame, too used to people and know how to get their own way.
We got back to the room and washed the wounds as best we could. He refused to go for a rabies jab, saying i was worrying too much...I got online and obsessively checked for any cases of disease transmission between monkey and human in Bali.
another random side street
There wasn’t anything specific but there was a HUGE number of alerts to the massive problem with rabid dogs on the island leading to a number of human deaths. ‘Scott please go and get a jab’ He always hated needles what could i do..... I went to a couple of surgeries in Ubud and got some advice from the doctors. They reassured that the monkeys in Ubud are disease-free, still such a worry, once you show symptoms of rabies it is too late, you WILL die. When I think about it, I am quite angry that the vendors at the monkey forest happily sell you bananas to feed the monkeys knowing full well that this sends them into a frenzy, like a scene from 28 days later. I read a lot of reports online of visitors being attacked, many of the victims children. There should at least be clear warnings around the forest.
Anyway, this has put me off monkeys for life. A couple of days later a taxi driver suggested we go to a traditional dance being held in the monkey forest, we looked at each other as if to say ‘no bleedin way are we ever setting foot in that place again’ We did get to go and see a dance, much to Scotts ultimate joy! The performance was held within a temple and composed of five dances, to traditional sekar gendot instrumental music, representing spirit and emotion of different stages of life. Some of the scenes were quite scary, the performers using their eyes as well as their bodies to tell the story, appearing as in a trance. Must admit, the music grated on me after half an hour or so!
The rest of the time we spent ahhhhhhhhhhh just blissfully chillaxing. Relaxing around the pool, in the little cafes, in the rice fields, in the market, in the spas. Superb place to spend some time with special company....